Plethora of wood-to-energy projects underway

By Anna Austin
The appeal of wood-to-energy power has snagged the attention of a multitude of power companies that are seeking an environmentally friendly and economically sound way to power new and existing plants.

Georgia seems to be a frontrunner in adopting this technology in the United States. In late August, Atlanta-based Georgia Power requested approval from the Georgia Public Service Commission to convert its 155-megawatt-per-year coal-fired unit at its Mitchell Generating Plant near Albany, Ga., to wood power. The feedstock will be obtained from suppliers operating within an approximately 100-mile radius of the plant. The facility, which will power 60,000 homes, expects to complete this conversion in 2012.

In September, Tucker, Ga.-based Oglethorpe Power Corp., the largest power supply cooperative in the United States, announced a massive woody biomass power plant project in the state, which will supply nearly half of Georgia's population with electricity. Plans include the construction of two 100-megawatt-per-year, carbon-neutral facilities-possibly a third in the future-that will run on a woody biomass mixture composed of chipped pulpwood, manufacturing residue such as sawmill waste, and harvest residue leftover from forest clearing. Each of the new facilities is expected to create 40 permanent jobs, and possibly hundreds more, within Georgia's forestry industry.

In June, Georgia passed a bill that would give business owners and residential consumers an income tax credit if certain clean energy property criteria were met. The bill, which includes biomass equipment to convert wood residuals into electricity through gasification and pyrolysis, went into effect July 1.

In other U.S. locations, GreenHunter Renewable Power LLC, a Texas-based subsidiary of GreenHunter Energy Inc., announced in September its acquisition of a 14-megawatt-per-year biomass power plant in Telogia, Fla., which will take in wood waste acquired from a variety of local sources. The company said it recently negotiated with a third party to provide up to 40 percent of its feedstock. GreenHunter plans to have the plant operational by the first quarter of 2009.

In late September, the Austin, Texas, city council approved a renewable power purchase agreement between Austin Energy and Nacogdoches Power LLC. As a result, Austin Energy will purchase of all of the electricity produced at Nacogdoches Power's proposed 100-megawatt-per-year power generation facility in Nacogdoches County, Texas. The plant will generate electricity using waste wood from logging and mill activities, and urban wood from clearing, tree trimming and wood pallets.